My Homage to Mandela’s Life

By L. Zapata

Regarding the mainstream media’s news coverage of Nelson Mandela’s life, death and burial, I am at once disgusted, annoyed and cynically pleased. I’m old enough to have been there when the Boer Apartheid Afrikaner South African government was considered to be one of this country’s closest, most dependable allies. I remember when U.S. government officials ignored and spurned our petitions and demonstrations for a change in our foreign policy, and when the mainstream media ignored and belittled our efforts -- including our call for a boycott of Shell gasoline. I remember when we began demonstrating daily at the South African embassy and, in waves, got arrested (waves that included me and later, my young son); how hard we worked for just a few seconds of news coverage. I remember our commitment, juxtaposed against the feeling of futility.

Now from newspapers, the TV and radio, one would think that everyone in the media and world-power leadership always loved Mandela. I’m sorry. I remember when they called him a radical communist and an anarchist criminal who tried to overthrow the duly elected democratic government -- not paying heed to the fact the government was elected by minority ruling oppressors. Just the other day, I saw on TV an old clip of former National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, the one-time face of our government’s apologist endorsement of apartheid, flip-flopping to suddenly condemn the racist system. Almost daily I see some of the older TV news broadcasters now heaping praise on the same Mandela they once disparaged and belittled and who was still on the U.S. terrorism watch list in 2008.

Well, as they say, ‘History books are written by the victors.’

But some of us remember and would like to set the history straight. Our beloved “democratic” country has had a habit of supporting oppressive governments until it becomes inconvenient and then saying ‘it wasn’t so’ (like the Shah of Iran, Pinochet, Batista, Marcos, Mubarak, and a long list of others). Some of us also remember that it has always been an insiders’ club, with those oppressive governments supporting each other -- especially those that denied human rights to the original inhabitants of a country they occupied and eventually controlled (e.g., South Africa, the U.S. and Israel). [For those who do not know the history, one of the most strident advocates of the creation of the Israeli state in the Palestinian Territories was Apartheid South Africa.]

Therefore, in celebration of Mandela’s life, I would like to offer up my thoughts about ongoing struggles against racism -- including the struggles of the Palestinian and Native American peoples. (Mandela was always a champion of the rights of indigenous peoples, so I write this in his honor.)

  1. First I would like to make some observations about the commonality of the psyche issues shared by some of the recent oppressor groups around the globe (using extremely simplified histories).

Feeling under attack from all sides and oppressed by other white colonizers, the Boers used their European weaponry to subdue the indigenous populations and established a strict policy of segregation between themselves and their semi-enslaved native Africans. Subsequently, even thought they were the dominant population, and even though they presented a demeanor of being in command and control, many Afrikaners never lost their national feeling of insecurity.

As the U.S. government matured and others from all over Europe migrated to the new country, those in the North seemed to shed their feeling of national inferiority. It was different in the South where the economy was heavily dependent on African slaves, and the Civil War soon followed. Unlike the Boers in Africa, after the South lost that war, they had nowhere else to go to establish a new country -- but they were allowed to maintain their mode of governmental segregation and racist oppression in the U.S. So they stayed where they were and established the post-Civil War, segregated society. The legacy was clear to anyone who visited the “Old South” up to and through the 1960s. While the old guard Southerners maintained a swagger of authority, there was an undercurrent sense of insecurity.

As was the case in the other examples, the Zionist feeling of superiority was undercut by a national feeling of insecurity and inferiority, and that made peaceful and equal coexistence with Palestinians impossible. The Israeli government instituted what amounts to a modern day policy of apartheid -- with the result that many neighboring (and even European) countries became antagonistic. This only antagonized the Israeli government more, and made them even more belligerent (with understandable pushback repercussions from the Palestinians and their international allies).

  1. The South African freedom struggle was a unique exception in the annals of oppression. While many of the problems of injustice and a stratified society based on race still exist in South Africa today, the end of formalized apartheid in South Africa was the result of an unparalleled confluence of factors.

  1. In the United States, it was different. In the struggles for human rights by Native Americans and the Black descendants of Africans there have been some limited successes and some mitigated failures.

  1. In Israel, for the Palestinians, the outlook also looks dim.

In conclusion (and in tribute to Mandela’s memory) it is easy for an outsider to second-guess Palestinian leadership. For years Yasser Arafat, [Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and past President of the Palestinian National Authority] directly challenged Israel’s right to exist. In fact, in effect, Mandela also challenged his own country’s right to exist and worked for its government’s destruction, but he was insightful enough not to say so directly. Arafat’s challenge, as well as by others in the PLO and in the more hard-line Hamas, was taken by the Zionists as a direct threat to their right to exist, and it played on their worst fears. That confrontation has led to continued violence on both sides and even more belligerence by the Zionists.

(In retrospect, Arafat’s words, not his end goal, were as much a part of the problem as the Zionists’ insecurities. Mandela spoke of coexistence and loving his former oppressors, with the result that the old Afrikaner South African government has met its demise and now ceases to exist. If Arafat could have challenged the bigotry instead of the terminology, and made Zionists feel at least somewhat comfortable with a pluralist society, maybe things would be different today.)

In all fairness, it was easier in South Africa where Blacks were in the vast majority, and yielding to give them the vote led inexorably to the Boer regime’s demise. Also, the Boers knew in their hearts they were not Africans, but colonizers in the truest sense of the word. Most Jews in Israel seem to believe they are the direct descendants of the original inhabitants of that region, and despite their European features and physical appearance, they feel they have a legitimate claim to the land on which Israel sits.

[Sidebar note -- This bears some resemblance to the attitude of many U.S. non-Natives who call themselves “Americans” and seem to have totally wiped out the memory that their ancestors came from other places: and the reality that their homes, farms and businesses sit on land stolen from the indigenous people.]

The Palestinian struggle for justice is also made more complicated by the populations divided between the occupied territories and Israeli-Palestinian (who, despite their second-class status, often seem to be more timid about rocking the boat). The general consensus among Palestinian leaders in the occupied territories is that they now want a “two-state” solution (an Israel country AND a Palestine country; i.e., accepting the Jewish state’s right to exist and requesting a similar one for the Palestinians) -- but how does that help the Israeli-Palestinians who have built their lives in Israel? Putting aside for the moment whether the Zionists would allow the creation of a Palestinian country, how would the two separate islands of Palestinian populations in “occupied” land (the West Bank and Gaza) combine to create a single viable country? How could they prosper economically? What would happen to the impoverished refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria? (Israel certainly would not vacate their commandeered Palestinian properties -- they have already changed the locks.)

Another possibility of course, is a single state solution. Assuming the Zionists would be willing to grant Palestinians full citizenship and the right to vote (which is doubtful), the combined Palestinians populations would insure them a powerful, and possibly almost equal voice in the Knesset (Israel’s legislature). If the Zionists refused to have free and fair elections, the international pressure to force Israel to implement true democracy might be too powerful for even the U.S. to counteract. Unfortunately, given the deep-seated anger of the Palestinians, especially those in the occupied territories, it seems highly unlikely that they would consider such a solution, and even more unlikely that they would be willing to support an interracially loving leader who could pull it all together.

One truth about Mandela seems to be that he was BOTH a revolutionary and a pragmatist. He was not afraid of fighting and of dying for his cause, but he took the axiom “by any means necessary” to mean that if a peaceful/loving solution worked better than a violent one, then he would leave the latter behind and become an advocate of the former. It worked, and so today, millions around the world have conveniently forgotten how they once disparaged him and they now sing his praises.

Rest easy great warrior. Others will carry on your struggle.

Copyright © Luis Zapata


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